CategoryIn 5 years…

Announcing the Cognitive Cities Conference


Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

Update: New date for Cognitive Cities Conference is 26/27 February 2011 (details).

A few friends and I are planning a conference this fall. Please allow me to cross-post from the Cognitive Cities blog:

Our future will be played out in cities. The projections tell us that our planet will resemble some very familiar fictional fantasies: 75% of the global population will be living by 2050 in cities or mega cities. Between slums and mass poverty on one hand and eco-sustainable living on the other hand, there will be both tough problems to solve and exciting visions to realize. We are at a point in time where the paths are set for the future of cities. The Cognitive Cities Conference wants to pick up the vibrant global conversation about the future of cities and bring it to Germany. By bringing bright minds with different perspectives together, it is our ambition to enable not only an in-depth exchange about the current state of affairs, but also to foster new projects. We believe that collaboration and diversity lead to the best results. We see the Cognitive Cities Conference as a platform for exchange and mutual inspiration and invite urban planners, designers, technology geeks, environmental experts, public officials, urban gardening enthusiasts and cultural influencers to be part of the conversation. We can only make our cities more liveable if we work together to improve them. The format of the conference will be a combination of lightning talks and workshop style sessions. Participants will share ideas, thoughts and challenges based on their diverse backgrounds, thus presenting different perspectives and approaches to the challenges we share. We are planning a one track only event, with the option for break-out sessions at any time. Where and when? Cognitive Cities Conference 02./03. October 2010 Coworking Cologne Who is Cognitive Cities for? We believe that diversity is essential for mutual inspiration. Cognitive Cities is aimed at designers, architects, futurists, urban planners, web geeks, activists, urban dwellers, you name it. If you are interested in the future of your city, you are most welcome. Who is behind Cognitive Cities Conference? Axel Quack, Igor Schwarzmann, Johannes Kleske, Markus Reuter, Martin Spindler, Peter Bihr, Welf Kirschner. Powered by Cognitive Cities is organized on a non-profit basis. We will provide more details and a dedicated link soon.

Until we have a site up, please refer to the original post.

For us, the idea behind Cognitive Cities isn’t just focused on urban planning.

That’s very important, as I’d like to stress that we hope to touch on other fields that are just as relevant to living in a city: think smart homes, smart grids, smart meters. Think augmented reality, Spime, sensors, cell phones, geo-tagging. Think open data. Think transportation, car sharing, intelligent trip planning. (Jetpacks, anyone?) Think reclaiming your city bottom-up. Think street art and locative art. Think green living and rooftop gardens and urban gardening. All of these, and many more, will influence our lives in the city. And all of them should be represented at our conference.

Also, I’d like to briefly put this in context: I know this all is, so far, pretty vague. We’ll get more concrete soon. Until then, we’ll be getting in touch with a first batch of potential speakers and sponsors to cover basic costs and, hopefully, some travel grants for speakers or guests who couldn’t come otherwise. We got to this event via atoms&bits, so there’s a connection here too. Props and thanks to Martin Spindler for getting the ball rolling and getting me on board! Also, thanks to Axel for enabling us to use Coworking Cologne as our conference location. As always, having a location for an event always is a huge load off of our shoulders.

So while we’re setting up the basic infrastructure to organize an event, please feel free to get in touch. For the time being, the best way is to either leave a comment on the original post or here, or to drop any of us organizers a line directly. We’re all pretty easy to reach. (In my case, the contact form or Twitter.) Update: Email us at

Thanks for the patience, and for spreading the word. We’re all really looking forward to this.

Update: Official hashtag is #cocities.

Image: Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from yakobusan’s photostream

Touch-driven interface from the future


A little while ago, Stylewalker blogged about a ridiculously futuristic touch-driven interface that Jeff Han has been cooking up at NYU. Now if you thought that looked amazing, what do you think of this? Although it just gives us a tiny glimpse of what it does as of yet, just thinking about the new things you can do with that kind of device makes me shudder.

Compared to this, Minority Report looks like a little kid’s toy.

Here’s the article on fastcompany that came with the video. (Or was that the other way round?)

Link to the video. (Via)

In 5 years… Work


Part 3 of my little mini-series about the subtle (or not-so-subtle) shifts and changes of our lives in a digitized world. Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer:

This isn’t about looking into the future, either, really. Instead it’s more to look back in five or so years to get an idea about our perception at the time, and either say “Hah! Told you so!” or “Ewww, this really turned out different, eh?”.

  1. Multiplayer games will be an essential selection of the application process
    As you learn key skills like hand-eye coordination, problem-solving and team work, a standard question when applying for a job will be: “Which games have you played?”. (Says Greg Niemeyer, and he’s right.)
  2. Where you live won’t matter as much as when you can be online.
    As online work and collaboration become the norm, the time zone and your circadian will be much more important than the actual geographical location. (Cory Doctorow explores this idea in detail in his novel Eastern Standard Tribes.)
  3. Part of our job perks will be paid in online/in-game currency and goods.
    Be it Linden-Dollars or WoW items: Whatever kind of online currency we choose, we will get. With the borders between online and offline life blurring, this will not be a bad deal but just a more flexible way of getting a reward.
  4. We will spend a significant part of our day just sorting information.
    Yes, even more so than today.
  5. We will work in a whole set of different jobs and engagements at any time.
    Instead of working in one so-called bread job, we will be engaged in a whole set of freelance, semi-dependent and employment relationships as well as issue- or interest-based volunteer engagements. Besides getting paid for what we like to do and working for what we think is important, we’ll permanently juggle tasks and engagements. This is both curse and blessing of the information age.

In 5 years… Society


After a little break, it’s time for another look into the not-too-far future. Keep in mind:

This isn’t about looking into the future, either, really. Instead it’s more to look back in five or so years to get an idea about our perception at the time, and either say “Hah! Told you so!” or “Ewww, this really turned out different, eh?”.

That said, here my guesses about some trends, gathered in this spot around the very vague label “society”. (Which, to be honest, is just a cheap substitute for the category miscellaneous). These are not the smartest ideas ever (not even my own to a large degree), but just some observations. Enjoy. Society

  1. Information Warfare will become more important than regular forces. As a country can’t be run without communication, and neither can an army, a break-down of communication will be the worst-case scenario. This includes exporting backdoored software to other countries, military and paramilitary hackers and the physical shutting-off of IT infrastructure among other things.
  2. Universities will focus more on certifying knowledge than teaching it. With more knowledge accessible at cheaper rates, we will be responsible for our education ourselves. Teaching ourselves will become increasingly important. Consequently, instead of attending expensive classes, we’ll be able to learn by ourselves and have our knowledge and skills certified at trusted centers. Thus, we can make our masters degree in many different ways: Online; In more reputable or less reputable test and training centers; Or just the traditional way, in a classroom. (With this idea I was first confronted by Max Senges. Thanks, Max.)
  3. The borders between online and offline disputes will blur, requiring new mechanisms of conflict resolution, mediation and law. As online goods grow more valuable and conflicts can more easily swap from online and in-game to offline, laws and other mechanisms have to evolve to cope with the resulting conflicts and to counter fraud. What’s the punishment for robbing you in-game of items you purchased for real money and re-selling them on ebay? (Again, Cory Doctorow has developed some of these ideas in his short-story Anda’s Game. )
  4. Collaboration will span all areas of the economy. Collaborative, bottom-up production will go way beyond cultural production. It will span all aspects of society, including scientific research – the latter one both in terms of creative input and processing power, both of which are shared online. (Not the only one, but one of the best readings: Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.)
  5. SPAM will be a thing of the past. Just kidding. A man can dream, though, a man can dream.
  6. Outside authoritarian states, censorship won’t occur. Netizens will be able to choose the kind of content they want to be exposed to based on client-based filters which analyze the metadata of contents, as tagged collaboratively. Top-down censorship will be a scary thing of the past.
  7. A huge new sector of cheap unskilled labor will pop up substituting bots. Bots suck at certain tasks. These formerly automated tasks will instead be done more effectively by humans because we’re better at pattern recognition. However, this will be the most mind-numbing unskilled work: Circumventing anti-spam bot barriers, evaluation and judging visual information and similar bot-like tasks like playing noob-ingame characters to a certain level. (Again, see Cory Doctorow’s Anda’s Game and Amazon‘s Mechanical Turk.)

In 5 years… (Digital Divide)


In 5 years is going to be a little mini-series dealing with emerging trends in a number of fields. Note that most of these ideas have been out there for a while. Where I remember the immediate source, I’ll reference it. Where I don’t, well, I don’t. (If you know the source, please let me know.) However, please note that I do not claim authorship for any of these ideas!

This isn’t about looking into the future, either, really. Instead it’s more to look back in five or so years to get an idea about our perception at the time, and either say “Hah! Told you so!” or “Ewww, this really turned out different, eh?”.

So here you go. Today’s topic:

Digital Divide. In five years,…

  1. Judging information quality will be a key skill. To counter information manipulation by interest groups of all sorts – and this includes commercial messages – it will be a key skill to judge the validity, source and quality of information. This will be a significant part of what we’d call web literacy.
  2. Ads will be for the poor. As ads will be the single-most important source of funding for otherwise-free services, they will become more and more obnoxious. We will have to pay our way out of ad-funded services: Being ad-free online will be a status symbol in itself, while using ad-sponsored services will become an indicator of low social status. This trend has long since started and will grow much stronger.
  3. It won’t matter who you are, but how fast your connection is. Society won’t be divided into strata based on education, age or ethnicity, but increasingly on web literacy and connection speed.
  4. The depth of information you can access and its interconnectedness will depend on your budget. The more you pay, the more inter-connected and context-sensitive – the deeper! – your online experience will be.While all users will look at the same website, they will see very different things depending on their budget.
  5. Basic protection of your privacy will become a UN basic human right. This right will be challenged often and massively, and we’ll have to fight hard to defend it. But it will be recognized as a human right.